Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bias in Political Analysis

Ben Smith over at Politico is reporting that Richard Wolffe, the former Newsweek reporter, was given special access by the Obama campaign so that Wolffe could write a book about the campaign. Apparently, this special access was given in return for soft reporting by Wolffe. I don't mind Wolffe or any other reporter having special access to a campaign or president in return for soft coverage as long as the arrangement is disclosed. Mr. Wolffe appeared on MSNBC throughout the campaign and on the pages of Newsweek as an independent analysis but as it turned out, he was far from independent.

Smith is reporting that Wolffe is getting grief for his former pals for holding out on them by saving most (or the best?) of the materials for his book instead of publishing it in Newsweek, which apparently was financing his research. But so far no one is giving Wolffe grief for pretending to be an objective commentator when he was a party to a tacit or explicit quid pro quo--access for soft coverage. Again, I'm not objecting to the arrangement--and apparently this is not at all unusual. However, I think journalists have an obligation to disclose those arrangements so that we the readers and viewers can judge for ourselves as best as we can. When they don't disclose, we should punish them.

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